SILVERTON - On New Year's Day, Oregon's minimum wage jumped 40 cents to $6.90 per hour, the result of a voter initiative passed during the Nov. 5 election.

Oregon voters passed Measure 25, a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage beginning Jan. 1, 2003. The initiative also indexed the minimum wage to inflation, which means it will continue to grow each year.

A full-time worker at the new minimum wage will make about $14,300. Challenges still face this worker, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a proponent of the wage increase. The salary figure is below the poverty level for families of three or more, and in Oregon, housing costs continue to be high relative to income, the center asserts. In Oregon, more than 150,000 renters are paying more than 35 percent of their income as rent, the center reports.

Oregon has likely the highest hunger rate in the nation, and that work does not necessarily prevent hunger, the center adds.

"Raising the minimum wage makes it easier for thousands of Oregon families to put food on the table. Making sure the minimum wage keeps up with inflation ensures that the amount of the food on the table doesn't get smaller," said Jeff Thompson, economist and analyst with the center.

Not everybody lauded passage of Measure 25, however. Business groups, in particular, feared its effects on an already-weak economy.

Julie Brandis of Associated Oregon Industries wrote, "The new minimum wage figure is expected to especially harm rural parts of the state because the CPI (Consumer Price Index) is an urban figure. The opposition campaign faced an uphill battle. Polling showed that the measure could be defeated, but raising campaign money was an uphill battle. ... In the end, there simply was neither the time nor money to produce appropriate and needed information for voters."

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